The Black Market is a blanket term that refers to the sale of illegal, immoral, or contraband items in exchange for money all across the globe. The black market is basically everywhere – from dark alleys to stores selling bootleg iPhones to secret websites on the deep web.
When you picture items sold on the black market, you probably imagine your classic gangster wares and accessories – guns, drugs, and sex. However, if you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll find that a lot of what you can buy on the black market is even stranger.
1. Social Security Numbers with Great Credit Scores
Have you ever been denied a loan, or the lease on an apartment, because you had a lousy credit score? It’s a problem thousands of Americans with credit card debt experience every year.
However, like any enterprising businessmen, hackers on the deep web are eager to swoop in and offer a solution for a shockingly affordable price. Companies like Equifax have been known for experiencing data breaches that leave the personal information of tens of millions of Americans vulnerable.
Hackers can take advantage of situations like that, skimming the breaches for social security numbers attached to great credit scores – typically 750 and above. They then take these social security numbers and sell them on the deep web, often for as low two dollars apiece.
This seems almost like a Robin Hood scheme for people with low credit scores, but it’s not quite as fun for the people getting their identity stolen. For all you know, your social security number might be on one of these sites right now.
2. Human Body Parts
We’ve all heard the classic urban legend: After a night of heavy drinking, you wake up in a bathtub full of ice with a scar in your abdomen. You’re also minus a kidney. The question rarely asked is “what happens to that kidney after the story ends?”
Well, unless you’ve had a run in with Hannibal Lecter, chances are your kidney has ended up on the black market. If you’re someone in need of an organ transplant, you’re already aware that the waiting lines for getting a new heart, liver, or kidney are incredibly long. And time is a luxury that a lot of sick people can’t afford.
Once again, entrepreneurial black market salesmen enter, stage left. The black market organ trade is a truly booming business, often trading in up to 1.7 billion dollars every year. In 2014, almost five thousand Americans died while waiting for an organ transplant, and that’s just a fraction of the people suffering from delays in transplantation. This is a product with an extremely high demand, and only 10% of that overall demand is met legally. This makes body parts one of the black market’s hottest sellers.
3. Laundry Detergent
When you think of illegally-distributed liquids, you probably picture 1920s bootleggers moving liquor in speedboats off the coast of New York. What you probably don’t picture are thieves stealing bottles of Tide laundry detergent and selling them at obscenely marked-down prices to turn a profit.
The so-called “Tide Bandits” fill up shopping carts with laundry detergent, and then bolt out the door before anyone has a chance to stop them. These bottles of detergent are then sold off to the general public or convenience stores. This is part of a larger trend referred to by some as “organized retail crime”, or ORC.
Groups of organized criminals employ well-paid crews of career shoplifters to obtain millions of dollars of commercial products every year. Each shoplifting session often plays out like a mini-heist movie, with distractions, misdirection, and a final score. The result? The cheapest spin cycle you’ve ever had.
This seems like a bizarre thing to buy illegally when you could just get it from the store, but laundry detergent is among the more expensive over-the-counter products people regularly buy. Tide products also regularly fund the drug habits of the sellers, and the circle of crime keeps on turning.
Next time you’re at the beach, making a sand castle, consider that some people would happily shoot you in the face to take it. That’s because there’s a violent black market around sand. Sand and gravel are two of the most extracted minerals on earth, thanks to their incredible usefulness in construction, with up to 59 billion tons of both being mined every single year.
China and India in particular are experiencing an infrastructure construction boom, meaning the demand for sand in the East is even higher.
However, sand is a finite resource, and construction booms all around the world have rapidly depleted it. Specifically, sand from around water sources and riverbeds are the supplies in high demand, because desert sand grains are too round to be effectively used in construction.
Criminals colloquially known as the “sand mafia” steal huge quantities of construction-ready sand from beaches to sell to the highest bidder on the black market. Some members of the sand mafia in India have even murdered to get their hands on more of it. Historically, organized criminals have used beach-fronts to ship and receive stolen goods. Now, they can make even more money just stealing the beach.
5. Netflix Accounts
Ever invited some friends over to watch some movies or binge a TV show on Netflix? Imagine if you were secretly sharing your account with hundreds or even thousands of people, most of whom you probably wouldn’t consider friends. If you’re a Netflix account owner, it’s very possible this is happening to you right now.
That’s because clever hackers are able to obtain Netflix email addresses and passwords through data breaches and email phishing schemes. They then sell off these emails and passwords for as little as twenty-five cents on black market websites and forums.
It may seem like they’re seriously under-selling the product here, considering the annual subscription fees for Netflix accounts, but the high number of stolen login credentials means the prices don’t need to be high to turn a profit.
These black market salesmen make their real profits on the sheer volume of credentials sold, sometimes even offering bulk packages. If this has made you feel paranoid, don’t worry about it. Changing your password should solve this one.
6. Flight Attendant Uniforms
Sexy Halloween costumes are all the rage these days. Sexy nurses, sexy priests, and even sexy hazmat suits. So, what about sexy flight attendant? Well, that one is a little more complicated. Posing as a flight attendant can create some serious security risks, so authentic flight attendant costumes aren’t readily available to civilians.
However, as in every other entry on this list, people on the black market are here to supply even the strangest demands. Enter the black market flight attendant uniform, particularly popular in Japan.
Japan Airlines had to put in official measures in 2010 to prevent former flight attendants from illegally auctioning off their uniforms on the internet, where they can sell for thousands of dollars.
Thankfully, most of the people buying these uniforms aren’t people attempting to sneak onto commercial flights for nefarious purposes. The most frequent customer of these black markets are Japanese exotic dancing clubs, where flight attendant characters are very popular with a select clientele. Still, probably better in the hands of flight attendant fetishists than violent criminals.
It isn’t always easy to have kids. There are a number of issues – from non-viable sperm to infertile eggs – that could prevent someone from conceiving. For many couples, sperm donation and IVF are the answer to their problems.
However, without good health insurance, these treatments can be out of many people’s financial reach. And, even in countries with universal healthcare, the waiting time for IVF can run as high as two years. For a lot of people out there, two years is too long to wait, so they turn to the alternative fertilization options offered by the black market.
China, France, and the UK all have thriving online black markets for sperm, used in DIY home self-insemination kits. Typically, you can buy these sperm samples in sealed containers. But, some enterprising gentlemen in the Chinese black market have offered to do the insemination themselves by having sex with their customers.
Of course, compared to the rigorously tested and professional methods of official IVF treatment, the black market method is risky. Disease and contamination are a significant risk, as well as the fact you have no sure-fire way of knowing the sperm you’re being given is viable. That being said, this sperm is a lot cheaper than the legal method, so you get what you pay for.
8. Fake Degrees
Ever wanted to pursue your dream career as a doctor, lawyer, or academic, but don’t have the money, time, or dedication to actually pursue a degree in your chosen subject? Don’t worry about it! The entrepreneurs on the black market have your back on this one, too.
There’s a robust underground industry of fake degrees, diplomas, and certifications willing to furbish you with a realistic-looking fake degree for a far lower cost than actually pursuing your favourite subject in college. These degrees can open huge doors in the professional world for their owners, so naturally, the demand is high.
The shady institutions pedalling these bogus qualifications are known as “diploma mills”, which make millions of dollars every year illegally providing fake certificates. Some people are willing to pay through the nose for their documents, too – with one British diploma mill customer paying over $600,000 for his order.
Tech companies also maintain thousands of fake university websites to maintain the ruse, with names like “Brooklyn Park University” and even the unfortunately named “Nixon University.” It’s the perfect place to get your fake degree for when you’re later insisting that you’re totally not a crook.
9. Creepy Realistic Masks
Have you ever wanted to look like an incredibly, almost creepily realistic old man without a lot of money or a time machine? Then maybe the best option for you is getting a tor browser, logging on to the deep web, and buying yourself a black market silicone mask for a few Bitcoins.
No, I’m not kidding, this is actually something you can buy. What’s so black market about this, you’re probably wondering? Well, to get masks of this quality for a decent price, they’re likely stolen from movie lots and special effects studios.
Masks like these are also sometimes used to commit further crimes. For example, in 2014, a man in a highly realistic silicone old man mask robbed four Seattle banks. If you purchase a stolen mask like that on the black market, then use it to commit crimes, the chances of it getting traced back to you are even lower.
Though if you don’t plan on disguising yourself to commit a serious crime spree, and just want a freaky Halloween costume, maybe just pay a little more and buy it from a party store.
10. Baby Formula
Picture this: You’ve got your life together. You’ve bought an excellent credit score online. Your illegal kidney transplant was a complete success. Your clothes are clean, thanks to your stolen laundry detergent. You’ve got a law degree, kinda.
You’re watching someone else’s Netflix account, while wearing a flight attendant’s uniform and your scarily realistic silicone mask. Your illegal IVF baby is playing in the stolen sandbox outside. That’s when it occurs to you – with all the money you’ve spent on these black market products, how are you going to afford baby formula?
Baby formula is a commodity so valuable it’s often referred to by black marketeers as “liquid gold.” It often costs mothers up to $150 a month, despite costing significantly less to produce. With an extremely high demand from almost all new mothers, and the fact that the product is bought at a huge bulk discount by retailers, makes it perfect to steal and redistribute.
They’re stolen in pretty much the same way as the laundry detergent: Efficient, well-organized teams of career shoplifters steal baby formula in bulk. The price is then ludicrously marked down, and sold to mothers who don’t feel like playing supermarket prices.
Feeding your new-born with black market products doesn’t seem ideal, but it’s rarely a matter of choice. For many working mothers, particularly single mothers, a $150-a-month outlay is impossible. The same can be said for most of the products on the black market – crime meets the demand that legal supplies can’t.
While drugs and guns are a black market mainstay for career criminals, when it comes to laundry detergent, baby formula, and sperm, the root cause is desperation. Until legal supply can fill the gap, it’s likely these crazy black market products won’t be going away any time soon.